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Red Sox owners fielding more nongame revenue

Keeping the faith, Susan Forbes called the Red Sox a month ago to book Fenway Park for a postseason party.

The vice president of marketing at insurance broker William Gallagher Associates, Forbes is always on the lookout for new ways to entertain clients. She couldn't confirm a date until the Red Sox playoff schedule was set. But the timing was worth the wait.

"A party here at this time of year with the Red Sox playing the Yankees in the ALCS is really exciting," said Milt Alpern, chief financial officer of Westborough software firm Applix Inc. and a longtime WGA client, as he dined last week in Fenway's 406 Club overlooking the field as the Sox got ready to play Game 2 of the American League Championship Series in New York.

Banking on the historic park's appeal, especially at a time when the Boston team's playoff appearances are more frequent, Red Sox management is stepping up its efforts to market Fenway as a venue for everything from sales meetings to bar mitzvahs. Though renting out Fenway isn't new, the team's new ownership, led by John W. Henry, this year doubled revenues from the practice. So far this year, they've booked 92 events, compared with 20 a year ago.

Depending on the size and grandeur of an event, it could cost as little as $1,000 to rent a small piece of Fenway or as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars to entertain a few thousand of your closet friends in the swankest of Fenway style. The menu can be as basic as hot dogs or as fancy as filet mignon. Venues vary from suites that hold a couple dozen to the right-field concourse that holds thousands.

The Red Sox decline to say how much they earn from renting out Fenway for corporate events and private parties. But maximizing Fenway's earning potential is important because unlike other franchises, the team can't sell more tickets. It already sells out every game. And it can't raise ticket prices much higher (at least fans hope not) because it already has the highest ticket prices in the league.

Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economics professor at Smith College, estimates a team can bring in a few million dollars a year by renting out its facility. Though a small piece of overall revenues (Forbes magazine pegs the Red Sox revenues for the 2003 season at $190 million), cash generated by nonbaseball activities, as opposed to ticket sales, goes directly to the team's bottom line, skirting Major League Baseball's revenue sharing requirement.

Milking a ballpark for "nonbaseball" revenues is becoming a commonplace practice in the major leagues. Built with that purpose in mind, new stadiums include restaurants, posh suites, and clubs. Seattle's Safeco Field is available for dinner for two at home plate, or a picnic in centerfield. San Francisco's SBC Park is available for fantasy batting practice, concerts, and trade shows.

Adding together all the small projects undertaken by the new Red Sox owners to improve Fenway, such as shutting off of Lansdowne Street for food and music before games and adding seats above the Green Monster and in right field, Zimbalist estimates that the new owners could be adding $20 million or more in revenues. [The New York Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox parent company.]

The new regime is advertising the opportunity to rent out Fenway on air during its TV and radio broadcasts. Its sales team is putting the word out to businesses, hoteliers, convention organizers, and party planners. It increased and upgraded event space, opening the Crown Royal Club and the right-field roof, and adding plasma TVs. It has organized a sales seminar on the Green Monster, a CD release party on the right-field concourse, and two batting practices during the Democratic National Convention.

The park is available all 284 days of the year that there isn't a home game. Even on game days, management will open up parts of the park for a pregame luncheon or postgame cocktail party. Want a Red Sox legend at the party? Former left-fielder Jim Rice signed autographs and hobnobbed with guests at WGA's party. Want to offer guests a tour? No problem. Want your company's name on the scoreboard? Of course.

Certainly, Fenway's appeal is tied to the Red Sox. But its appeal transcends the team. Opened in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank, Fenway is the oldest ballpark in the majors. In a typical week during the summer, nearly 10,000 people take tours of the park -- another practice the franchise says has increased "exponentially."

"They are trying to preserve the old-world qualities that give Fenway its charm while trying to make it competitive with all these newer baseball venues," said Maury Brown, cochairman of the Society for American Baseball Research's business of baseball committee.

Wedding on the right-field roof, anyone?

Naomi Aoki can be reached at naoki@globe.com.

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